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Leeds City Council to go ahead with PFI in Little London

Get Carter | 18.05.2006 17:17 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles

After 6 years of sham consultations, ignored ballots, misinformation, broken promises and contemptful neglect, Leeds City Council has finally unveiled the worst kept secret since Maradona's 1986 handball.

Despite a 500 strong petition from tenants and residents, the total opposition of the Little London Tenants and Residents Association (LLTRA) Commitee and Save Little London Campaign, and huge support from neighboring communities, yesterday's Council Executive meeting took the disgraceful - yet unsurprising - decision to go ahead with its PFI regeneration scheme in Little London.

At 10.15am outside Leeds Civic Hall, the LLTRA committee were being interviewed by TV and radio. It was good-natured and despite knowing the Council had already made its mind up, an air of optimism remained. The residents' representatives - all of whom live in Little London unlike the Councillors and officers 'regenerating them' - then went inside to present a 500-strong petition to Cllr Andrew Carter (Tory), Joint Leader of Leeds City Council and executive cllr for housing. They had expected Lib Dem leader, Cllr Mark Harris.

Handing over the petition, Laurean Slattie, chair of LLTRA committee, demanded that Leeds City Council "listen to the wishes of more than a third of the estate and shelve plans to force hundreds out of their own homes". Cllr Carter responded that he and other executive members would of course take their wishes into consideration - and then for the next 20 minutes did precisely the opposite as he lectured, hectored, and, at times, blatently lied to an increasingly irate association.

It was fantastic stuff - tenants standing up to a bully and putting him in squarely in his place. Each myth about the PFI that Carter launched at the group, they threw back with double measure. He said "my hands are tied - PFI is the only way I can get £90m to regenerate your estate". Tenants countered that the estate "didn't need £90m spent on repairs", it was the PFI that was inflating the cost by proposing vast regeneration plans that weren't needed or demanded by the community. They asked why Leeds City Council didn't rebel against PFI financing to which the council leader had no answer other than the weak "we've asked central government for the money and they said no".

Carter argued that the consultation showed people did want it - the tenants countered that 63% of tenants "did not support it" and that the consultation was "biased" and "misinformed people". Carter argued that Independent Tenant's Advisors had verified the consultation as "fair". Tenants replied that the same company was hardly independent as it was employed by Leeds City Council and yet had still criticised the council's handling of the process.

The debate went on and on, and became increasingly heated as tenants began to find their voices in unity and became more confident that Cllr Carter didn't actually know what he was talking about. Carter in turn resorted to more and more arrogant and dishonest statements about the PFI scheme. He claimed it "was not privatisation". Tenants immediately pointed out that the plan involved the direct sale of 3 huge towers blocks to the private sector. Carter corrected himself - "the rest will remain in Leeds City Council's ownership - we will still be your landlord". Tenants said that this was "unnecessary privatisation of council services" and profits made could have instead been invested in the area. Carter replied there is "nothing wrong with making a profit".

And on and on it went until Cllr Carter made two statements that will later come back to haunt him. The first was that he "guaranteed that there would be no more sell-offs in the PFI plan" - only the three Lovell blocks would be leased off to the private sector. Second, when reminded that he "worked for us and that we paid his wages", he retorted, "I don't work for you, you don't employ me, I work for Leeds City Council".

The meeting then turned farcical when Labour Cllr for Kirkstall, Bernard Atha, suddenly showed up to lend his support for the tenants and criticise the consultation process. Cllr Carter responded with heated comments and the two almost had to be separated when Cllr Atha made accusations of vote rigging and corruption during the recent local elections. Tenants watched on in amazement that their meeting with the Council leader was being sidetracked by this pathetic display of power politics. All of this was captured by the local media who couldn't believe their good fortune.

After a photo session with the Yorkshire Evening Post, the tenants and councillors parted company.

At 12.30pm, more tenants from Little London joined a large crowd outside the civic hall to protest against the Council's plans to go ahead with the PFI scheme, and also a ludicrous scheme to build a car park on part of Woodhouse Moor. Residents chanted "hands off our homes" as BBC Radio Leeds broadcast live from millennium square, followed by Calendar news.

At 1pm, 30 people sat in on the Executive meeting to hear the decision. First, the Executive thew out plans for the car park on Woodhouse Moor, citing strong community opposition. Cllr Carter the introduced the item on Little London. As each Cllr spoke, it was obvious that no one would oppose it. At the same time, it was clear that the Council knew they had not won the argument as they kept repeating that "there hands were tied". One Cllr insulted those present by saying that Little London had "problem people" living there and the PFI was a way of effectively getting rid of them.

A Labour Cllr supported the PFI scheme but expressed considerable concern at the way in which the consultation had been carried out, and the fact that tenants in the Lovell tower blocks had shown opposition to the plans.

In response, Cllr Carter made an interesting promise to investigate the possibilities in relation to the three Lovell Tower blocks as under the PFI proposal, this would be a separate contract. This is, however, more than likely just a political gesture to save face and dampen opposition with no possible basis given that the whole purpose of the scheme is to create a "mixed community" with wealthier people being sought to take up private lets in the tower blocks.

And then, the item was passed. As tenants left the chamber, one shouted "So that's it then, that's our homes gone?". Another said: "See you all in court".

This is not the end. It is just the end of the beginning.

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